Mar 13, 2012

United Home Opener ends in Heartbreak

If you are a fan of D.C. United then the way the 2012 MLS season opener ended could not have felt any worse.

After playing 90 minutes of uninspired play, that was lacking both excitement for the home crowd fans as well as any noticeable chemistry between the much hyped United roster all throughout this pre-season, United had their heart broken by none other than local Manassas, Virginia product and former D.C. United Youth Academy member C.J. Sapong. Sapong was part of the Super-20 Nationals with D.C. United Youth Academy. After the match speaking about what if felt like to score the game winning goal here in D.C., Sapong told Virginia Online Soccer News:

"It felt amazing, a dream come true. To see all my family and friends in the stands cheering for me, to see people that are cheering for D.C. cheering for me thats definetely a fulfilling, amazing feeling."

But alas, as bad as it felt and as hard as the game may have been to watch remember, it was only one game. United are sure to work out their chemistry issues on the field as the season progresses. The biggest obstacle however seems to be time - one week after their home loss to Sporting KC the Black-and-Red will face the defending MLS Champions, L.A. Galaxy. The Galaxy will be a tough team to face following their loss to Real Salt Lake and are loaded with firepower and play makers.

Here are a few notes from the home opener against SKC as well as a short list of areas of improvement United head coach Ben Olsen will surely be looking for from his side if they have any hope of not starting out 0-2 in 2012.

  • Rookie Nick DeLeon was on the reserve list for game one, look for Olsen to add DeLeon as on of his subs against L.A.
  • United got off to a slow start most likely due to the lack of time the players have had together. They won't have much more time to figure each other out but Olsen will surely be looking for major improvement in this area.
  • Returning MVP Dwayne De Rosario's timing seemed to be off all night as he was not much of a factor in the game against KC. Olsen needs to find a way to get Dero more touches and opportunities to create. A possible move to the midfield may help Dero become more involved.
  • The few free kick opportunities United did have were wasted at best. Olsen may want to have Najar take the set pieces in the next game in hopes of better results.
  • Though the defense clearly looked stronger and improved over last season, Goalkeeper Bill Hamid still had his hands full and single-handily kept D.C. in the match with his reflex save off a Kai Kamara header just before the end of the first half. With Hamid set to feature for the U-23's United can not count on that type of play from the keeper position and will need to limit opposing offenses to fewer uncontested shots on goal.
  • DP Hamdi Salihi will need to make better decisions with the ball, especially when he is inside the box and in clear scoring range. It was very disappointing to see him lose possession late in the match when United needed him most. 
  • Last but not least, with all the improvements with this years roster and the improved play by the back line United can ill afford to allow teams to steal points with late goals if they truely hope to return to the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The pressure is now on Ben Olsen and D.C. United to pick up hard to get road points before they return to RFK for a nationally televised (NBC) game against FC Dallas on March 30.

Best case scenario - United return home with a 2-1 record after a strong road trip, looking to get their first home win of the season.

Worst case scenario - United return home win less and face the pressure of trying to get the first win of the season in front of the entire country on NBC against Brek Shea and quality FC Dallas side.

Most realistic scenario - United return from the road trip with a 1-1-1 record with coach Ben Olsen and D.C. United fans still wondering if this team can be as good on the field as they looked on paper.